Community remembers renowned photographer Frank Cricchio, who was “Photoshop before Photoshop”

Published 12:40 am Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Frank Cricchio, renowned photographer who was considered a master in his field, died Thursday, Dec. 23. He was 88.

Cricchio, a Port Arthur graduate, died peacefully with three of his five children at his bedside, according to a family member.

His expertise in the field of photography led him to becoming the first and only photographer to receive more than 1,000 merits from the Professional Photographers of America in 1998.

Tom Neal, director of the Museum of the Gulf Coast, talks about the accomplishments of Frank Cricchio. (Mary Meaux/The News)

His accolades are many. He was considered an innovator in the photographic profession and gave lectures across the country and world.

Local photographer Bart Bragg began working with Cricchio in 1965, seven years after Cricchio opened his first studio in Port Arthur.

“Frank was a master at lighting and posing. His specialty was portraits but his understanding of light went beyond portraits,” Bragg said.

Tom Neal, director of the Museum of the Gulf Coast where there is an exhibit on Cricchio, spoke of how the photographer experimented with film to create the optimal shot. He once used five flash guns set to go off in a sequence to create the desired effect.

Bragg said back in the 1970s Cricchio began work as a consultant for Eastman Kodak.

“They found out about him through his lectures and contracted him to analyze their film as far as the technical aspects of the layers of color film,” Bragg said. “He was an innovator in studio lighting. He also began testing when they would come out with new film the parameters or latitudes of the way the film responded to light.”

Kodak sponsored Cricchio’s lectures around the world and at conventions.

Later Cricchio would work with Fuji helping them test their new films.

“He was easy to work with and always wiling to share his knowledge of photography with just about anybody who wanted to learn,” Bragg said. “He got calls from all over the world and was in demand as a speaker at conventions and seminars.”

Neal said Cricchio was the like the dream team of Photoshop before Photoshop was created.

Frank Cricchio and Bart Bragg in front of Air Force One, 1980. (Courtesy photo)

At a Rotary Club of Port Arthur meeting, Cricchio reportedly told of how an Orange County area museum had hired several New York-based photographers to take photos of their museum but there was a problem getting the lighting correct so they called Cricchio — who was less than 20 miles away — in for the job, which he did.

Neal told of how Cricchio took a 35mm slide and performed 240 development techniques on it to get the right exposure.

“He was the human version of Photoshop before Photoshop,” Neal said.

Bragg harkened back to the early days when he and Cricchio wore white coveralls with Cricchio’s studio name on them when they took photos during high school football games for the Port Arthur News.

“We would cover three to four different games then rush back to the dark room, rush out the prints and drive to the Port Arthur News building downtown,” he said.

Cricchio got his start taking pictures in high school at Thomas Jefferson in 1952. He worked for a short time for Watkins studio in Port Arthur, then a short while for Sears before opening his own studio.

Through the years he did many portraits, graduation photos and CavOILcade photos.

He and Bragg were business partners for many years until Bragg took over the business in 2002, Bragg said.

Besides his dedication to his craft, Cricchio also was a Rotary club member having served as the president in the early 70s.

Cricchio was called a very loving parent by daughter Tina Burks while other daughter Jonila Trahan spoke of his smile and how he called everybody “baby.”

The family offered thanks to Oak Grove Nursing Home and Harbor Hospice for their care of Cricchio.

His children are Tina Burks, Frankie Stone, Mark Cricchio, Jonila Trahan and Rochelle Emamisar. He had 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Services for Cricchio will be at 10 a.m. Jan. 4 at St. Charles Church’s Knights of Columbus Hall at 315 Hardy Ave., Nederland.